A Compendium of My Freewrites in December 2014

“My medium is words, sentences, paragraphs. And the same rules of good art apply to them there as they do to anything else.”   -December 20, 2014


On YouTube, Adam Savage, one of the MythBusters, has a channel in which he does what he calls One-Day Builds. These videos compress around eight hours of Adam working on a single project into a 30-minute or so video. I love these videos because, as a writing teacher, I love watching the creation process regardless of what people are creating. Every time I watch one of these videos I am inspired to create something myself.

This, here, is an attempt to do that same thing, to build something in one day, but with words.

Adam Savage

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My Family Being Happy and Moving Slowly

I Write About Writing: It’s Just What I Do I Guess

As I wrote my 750 words this morning, I discovered that there are two kinds of writing that I do when I am my only audience. These two kinds of writing are great tools for me for getting things done and figuring stuff out. 

The differences among these kinds of writing come from what I start out with, and what I want to end up with. 

Well, really, there are three kinds of writing, but really only two. I’ll explain. 

The first kind is reflective writing. This is when I sit down with some event or experience, or series of events or experiences and I try to make sense of them, either by linking them together into what Lyotard calls a “grand narrative,” by sussing out what even happened, or by analyzing why it happened what it could mean. The end goal of reflective writing is to feel more secure or confident, or to learn about myself and others.

The problem with reflective writing, is that I have a tendency, or at least used to have a tendency, to beat myself up. The writing would sometimes devolve into a pity fest. Just long lists of why I’m not good enough or smart enough, or a deep analysis of why I always fail and why I deserve to be unhappy. 

It could get ugly. 

But now, reflective writing mainly works to help me make sense of experiences or current and past relationships, or it helps me locate bottlenecks or roadblocks that cut down on my productivity, or else it helps me figure out ways to get better or improve things, or sometimes just to label my experiences, to give things names. 

This blog entry is an example of reflective writing where I name things. 

The second kind of writing I do that helps me out, I call planning writing. With this, I start out with a goal: sometimes I need to plan a lesson for class, sometimes I need to write a paper, sometimes I need to buy my wife a gift and I sit down and bang out my thoughts on how to get those things done. Planning writing is how I come up with an idea.

Planning writing is invention. 

For me this is where the beauty and magic of writing is the most evident. I try to write and to live by the axiom “You don’t know what you are going to write until you write it.” I don’t what is in my head until I have to wrestle into a sentence, which then holds it in place long enough for me to look at it and figure out how I feel about it. 

It’s for this same reason that I like improv comedy so much: those actors have no idea what they are going to do until it happens, and when it does happen, it doesn’t feel like invention, it feels like invocation or channeling. 

I like that feeling. I like thinking that when I write, it’s not coming 100% out of me, but is somehow distilled from the ether that surrounds me. It’s… exciting. 

The (sort of) third kind of writing that I do is freewriting. This is when I have the simple goal of getting words onto a page for the sake of doing it, or to get rid of the chaff words before I get to the good stuff, or to warm up my brain. But the thing is, freewriting almost always at some point turns into one of the other two types. 

It usually starts with pointless junk like, “I am now writing a sentence that started with the word I, and now I am wondering if I should have gone to the bathroom before I started. My fingers are moving!” It’s kind of like when a fish tank owner sucks the first bit of liquid through a siphon before the pressure equalizes and the water starts flowing, and then spits out the nasty fish water. 

The cool thing is, I can usually actually feel the switch happen from freewriting to planning or reflective writing; it’s when I say to myself, “Oh, ok, this is what I am doing,” and usually comes with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.

That’s also the reason I don’t really count it as a type of writing; it’s a bridge to one of the other two.



So there you have it, the two ways that I write when I am writing for no one else. 

Try them out.


I Blog for Me

Here’s the thing, blogging is for the blogger more than anything else.

Blogging has often been described as a narcissistic practice, and if we bloggers are honest with ourselves, we have to agree that the critics are right to an extent. Keeping a blog in which the main subject is ourselves requires that we deem our own lives worthy for someone else to spend time with.

Here’s what the blogger gets out of blogging: a creative outlet, a sense of accomplishment, a connection with the world, a time to reflect and make sense of things, a deadline to meet, etc.

The reader gets 5-10 minutes of reading what somebody else wrote, sometimes a social connection, a glimpse into someone else’s life, probably a little bit of entertainment; if they subscribe and read regularly then they probably feel a deeper connection and friendship with the blogger. But that requires a blogger that is consistent in their output.

But all in all, I feel like the blogger gets more out of the relationship.

I also think this is also why keeping up with a blog is a tiring practice. A blogger has to constantly be shining a light on themselves, and for people like me, that’s not always comfortable.

But there is something healthy about being able to publicly display, analyze, criticize, and praise yourself. Sure it’s nice that readers get something out of it, but I feel the real benefit of blogging comes as the blogger bangs out the words and then hits the publish button.

Everything afterward is just fallout.

Is It Possible to Make a Documentary About Yourself Without Being Narcissistic?

Recently I’ve been thinking that, given enough time and resources, I think it would be an amazing experience to make a documentary about myself. More specifically, I’d like to document my own search to figure out how I came to become the person I am today. I recently watched the documentary Born Rich and was inspired by Jamie Johnson’s ability to turn the camera on his own parents, and on himself. It makes me wonder what I would find if I sought out influential people in my life and sat them down to ask hard questions about who I am, and who the people that surrounded me were/are.

I’ve got a camera and microphone. Maybe I should just get started.

My New Hat and the Emotional Baggage it Comes With

I just bought a hat to cover up my progressively widening and elongating forehead.


The thing is though, it took me about a year to finally decide what kind of hat to buy.

See, I have this thing against advertising for stuff on my body: I don’t wear anything that has the brand name prominently displayed; I don’t wear novelty t-shirts; I don’t wear anything with a sports team, or band name; etc. I just don’t like anything enough to wear it around all day, or to try to inspire other people to want to like it to. I think I hate aligning myself with any one particular group, or using my clothing to make arguments about who I am and where I belong.

I think the other thing that I hate about turning myself into a billboard is that inevitably, someone will make a comment about it.

There are two things that freak me out about this prospect. The first is that I will have to have a conversation about it; except it won’t be a conversation, it will be a non-conversation that goes something this:

Some dude: Hey, I saw your shirt. Cool. I’m a big fan of X.
Me: Yeah.
(Ten seconds of awkward silence)

These kinds of interactions turn my guts around. I don’t know what to say, the other person doesn’t know what to say. The entire point of the interaction is to acknowledge that we both have positive feelings toward whatever thing is on my shirt or hat, which is something that I (sorry world) just don’t really care about. I already feel the tiny little marxist angel on my shoulder telling me how terribly consumerist and empty it is for me to be wearing it in the first place, and now I have to openly acknowledge to another person that we both share this dark ugly thing where we define ourselves by material possessions that make reference to other material possessions. Eep.

I can’t stand those conversations. (I think it has something to do with being a blue personality and desiring intimacy above all else. And these conversations are the opposite of intimacy; they are sharing time and space with a person that I will most likely never connect with.)

The second thing, is that I feel like, by wearing the name of something on me, I have to be willing at all times to advocate for that thing, like I’m some prosecutor doing my dangdest to defend that band Y really does make the best music in the world, or brand Z is better than it’s competitor. Or if not that, that I really am a member of whatever group pertains to the thing I am wearing.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother bought the latest Method Man cassette Tical 2000: Judgement Day, and, when he left it in the car, I would listen to it, a lot. One day, I went into Hot Topic and found a Johnny Blaze (AKA Method Man) hat on sale, and I liked it, and I had the expendable cash. So I bought it and put it on right away. Ten minutes later I was at Sbarro ordering a slice of cheese pizza, and the guy serving me, a black guy, looked at me with disgust, and said, “What you know about Johnny Blaze?” and then slid me my cardboard pizza slice carrier across the sneeze guard.

I say, “Uh, oh, I uh, I like him,” and feel white and excluded because of my whiteness, probably for the first time.

That moment did something to me that I still wear deep inside. My failure to belong to the group I was advertising for, and the failure to defend my belonging to the group, on top of the shock of being forced to defend my belonging, left a mark on me.

So now it’s really hard for me to buy a hat, even though I am getting balder by the minute.

I finally decided on a baseball cap because it seems the most forgettable to others, and it’s an ASU cap because I didn’t like blank baseball hats, and I go to and teach at ASU, so my belonging there is pretty undeniable.

Sheesh. I think there are people out there that can just buy a hat. How do they do that?

Having Kids is the Worst Thing to do With Your Life Aside from Everything Else

I am attempting to write this at home with my life happening all around me. I have put a coffee table up on my bed to act as a standing desk because I don’t have an actual desk that is mine in our little two bedroom house we rent. I just listened to one of my sons give me an inventory of his toys that he has decided to store in one of my dress socks. Before that, I changed a diaper on a seven-month-old with diaper rash who looked at me as I changed him like I was jamming needles under his fingernails. I am a family man. I am a 30-year-old PhD student with a wife and three kids. 

On top of making it harder to write a blog post, deciding to have kids as young as we did has made my wife and I part of a steadily shrinking minority: young married adults who are fairly highly-educated and who actually chose to have children on purpose. The secretaries at the doctor’s offices we visit look at us askance when they find out that yes, I, the man who is here to support the woman and children, am the legal husband, and, yes, I really am the father of all three children, and, no, I don’t have drug problems and, no, I do not pay child support to any other family. Just by being who I am, I have caused a few women named Kathie to do a double take. I am like a giraffe with two necks and heads or something because I am clean and educated, and love my wife and kids enough to go with them to the doctor. 

Now, this is the place where some people will moan and gripe because the good ol’ days when men and women knew their duty and got married and had kids because that’s just whatcha did are long past and our whole country is feeling the tingling warmth of hell fire because of it, but that’s not what I am going to do. Sure, the minority that I belong to used to be the majority. If I had been born thirty years before I was actually born, I would be a baby boomer, and my life would look similar to most of the people around me. But now, especially being an academic, I am one of very few. My closest colleague with children of similar ages to my kids at the last university I attended was my thesis adviser, a man fifteen-ish years older than me. But I am not going to say that because everyone else hasn’t made the same choices as me society as a whole is going to collapse.   

Sure, all sorts of “evidence” exists to show us that our decision to have kids was a mistake. We aren’t financially stable; we don’t have everything planned out; we haven’t always been able to buy birthday and Christmas presents every year; there’s a good chance I’ll still be paying off students loans while my kids are going to high school; I have “given up” on a lot of “dreams” (really just made smarter safer choices) because I have a family that I have to take care of. I have lost out on a lot. 

But I’ve gained a lot too. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tuck my kids in bed and read to them before grading a stack of papers into the darkness of night. 

I Play a Video Game, and I am Better for It

I’ve been playing a video game lately called BioShock Infinite. Now, I know that by doing so, it makes me just like millions of other people in my demographic. But for me, it was a difficult thing to get into. I don’t like video games for several reasons. I have seen how overpoweringly addicting they can be. I have seen people who have put so many hours of their life into video games that their brick and mortar life has been left unattended and some hefty weeds have grown around it. My wife hates video games for these same reasons, and since the only time I have to play video games must be subtracted from the time I usually spend with her, it makes a lot of sense that she balks at the thought of me having or playing video games. Plus it was $40, which in our budget is a lot.

But BioShock Infinite is different.

First of all, BioShock Infinite is one of the most intricate, thought-provoking, enrapturing (some of you will get that) narratives that I have ever come across. I spent a few of my college years studying fiction writing, and I can appreciate the sheer size of the story this video game tells, and the importance of some of the social issues it addresses. Also, because this is first-person shooter game, I am, in a very real way, asked by the game to inhabit the body of the main character and make decisions for him, and am thus propelled into and caught up in the narrative of the game in ways that I could never be when reading a book.

Ken Levine, the creative director that drove the team that created all the BioShock games, has been compared to Shakespeare in his ability to craft deeply meaningful, mind-bogglingly detailed, and incredibly entertaining experiences, and I feel that the comparison isn’t at all hyperbolic. This video game is something special, and so I have a hard time feeling like I’m just zoning out with mindless escapism when I play it.

Second of all, due to the depth of the experience, I have decided to write a seminar paper this semester. I had read a lot about BioShock just because I admired the creation of something so vast and impressive. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of interviews with the creators and even watched a four-hour walk through video of the game so I see the story. So based on all of that, I decided I would be able to write the paper without playing the game. But I knew to really “get it,” I would have to play the game myself. So I got it, and my wife has been very gracious and understanding in giving me the time I need to play through it, even though she isn’t happy about it.

The paper I am writing this semester is about the ways that BioShock Infinite can educate its players about the complexities of how public monuments and memorial spaces shape public memory. What that means, is that the world created in BioShock can teach the people who play it that the monuments and public displays that our governments create are much more complicated than just lawn decorations in parks, but rather they can have lasting effects on how people remember and talk about the past.

There are several important plot points where BioShock Infinite teaches these lessons, but it is most obvious in BioShock when the two main characters, Booker and Elizabeth, are led through the Hall of Heroes, a display created by the monomaniacal Father Comstock, who created the world of Columbia where BioShock takes place. The Hall of Heroes is a public display reminiscent of what you might see at a major theme park but scarier; think Main Street USA at Disney World, but tinged with overt racism and kitschy but frightening war imagery. In this space we explore how Father Comstock has rewritten the history of two fictionalized versions of Civil war battles, Peking and Wounded Knee, to make himself look like he was the hero, when Booker knows that he was the one that was the hero. Later we encounter General Slate, the only person in Columbia who knows the truth of Father Comstock’s revisions of history, and we see how he has been exiled from Columbia to shut him up.

Moving through the world of BioShock infinite isn’t just about running around blowing the heads off of bad guys (although this does happen), it’s a psychological experience about how the spaces that surround us can shape our perceptions of history and current politics, and how, if given enough power, the wrong person can erase history and reshape it to serve their own purposes. After experiencing these storylines, the player can then begin to look at something like the statue of some war hero on horse in her town square and start to think, “I wonder if that person really did the things that the statue makes me think he did,” or maybe even think, “Christopher Columbus was a terrible person, maybe we shouldn’t have a holiday named after him.” Which is a good thing.

So when I sit down to play BioShock, I have a much better excuse than “I’m improving my hand-eye coordination,” (although I am doing that) I am experiencing a creation so thoughtfully complex that I’m actually learning about how the real world works, why some of the ugliness in it exists, and helps me start to critically analyze things that I had previously taken for granted as I move through it.

Plus, sometimes it’s freaking cathartic to blow up a zeppelin.

What brand of writer am I? What brand of reader am I asking you to be?

As I sat here spewing out words trying to figure out what to write today, I discovered I have at least three distinct voices that I switch among as I write. These “voices,” which really come down to subtle shifts in word choice and stylistic differences, are mutually exclusive: they don’t mix and they don’t blend. I only write in one at a time, but I can switch among them many times in a piece of writing, and sometimes even schizophrenically within sentences.

As a rhetorician, I know that these constant shifts in voice mostly happen because I am constantly changing who I envision my audience to be. I don’t know who is going to read this (if anyone), and I don’t know what you the reader (if you are there) wants most from me. So instead of sending out surveys and holding focus groups about my writing, I have to do some guess work about who you are. Are you at home in your underpants reading this while your wife plays WoW in the other room? Are you adjusting your $400 glasses as you read this on your macbook pro in a dust free room? I don’t know, and I’ll never really know. So I have to just make some choices and then write in a way that asks you to be a certain kind of reader. In other words, I have to make some choices about who you are and treat you like I want you to want yourself to be treated. (Did you follow that?)

Anyway, here are the three voices I found that I write in based on who I think you are: my journaling voice, my academic voice, and my blog voice.

My journaling voice is the voice I mainly use to write on 750words.com. It’s a private voice that I really only use when I am writing to myself, and/or perhaps to some reader who cares about who I am deep inside, like maybe my wife. But even then, I don’t share all the I write in my journal voice to her. I use this voice mainly to self-evaluate and reflect (most of the time to beat myself up and call myself a failure. TMI?). I include a lot of personal information with this voice, and it tends to get melodramatic and maudlin. This journaling voice that a lot of us write in is so hilariously inappropriate in public that these people have created in international fervor for people sharing it openly. My journaling voice is what I use to write nonsense or warmup, or sometimes even to write a draft. But I make sure to leave only a small trace of it in my finished product.

Next I have my academic voice. This voice usually comes out when I am overly aware, even self-conscious, of an audience, and so I emphasize (or even feign) my authority in the subject I am writing about. I purposefully leave out almost all personal stuff because I imagine an audience who wants only to be informed and not bogged down by my emotional carry-on items. I imagine an audience that “privileges reason over emotion,” or something like a college professor that I didn’t get along with. In this voice I use really big words and dense sentences. In my last post, when I used the word asynchronous, I was writing in my academic voice.

The saddest thing is, I have grown so comfortable in this voice (which most people hear as terribly starched and cold) that it comes out naturally in my daily speech, to the detriment of my ability to carry on a normal conversation. I can’t make chitchat at parties unless I am talking to other academics who have a similar ailment. Being in college for eight years has hurt my ability to just talk normally to people. And I know that when I write that way, I turn people off.

When I write a blog, I try to stay away from my journaling voice and my academic voice as much as possible because both have a way of making people feel uncomfortable. That’s what my blog voice is for. I imagine that the audience reading this (you, good sir or madam) wants good information; they want it fast and easy, and while they are reading/learning, they want to be entertained with wordplay and jokes. That’s who I imagine you are and I am making my best effort to give you what I think you think you want. When I am writing in this voice, I am aware of consonance, assonance, puns, and humor. I am asking myself things like “how do I spice this up?” or “what pop culture references can I make here?” Once I know I have a foundation of good thought, I need to appeal to (what I think are) a certain audience’s sensibilities.

These voices come both as I write and as I revise. I usually draft in my journaling voice, and then over-correct into my academic voice, and then (hopefully) revise into my blogging voice. But it’s almost never that clear-cut, and I almost never am as aware of these voices as I am pretending to be right now.

On top of all of that, I also have to ask myself what brand of writer I think that I am and which parts of which voice are going to portray me in that way. Am I polished and perfected? witty or dry? Am I professional and sophisticated, or am I messy and sincere and vulnerable? As I switch among these voices it’s like I am trying on different costumes, looking in the mirror, and evaluating if it feels right.

Answering these questions for myself, I start to come up with my writing brand. I am vulnerable, messy, (hopefully) thoughtful, and (hopefully) kinda funny. In order to present myself as the kind of writer I want you to think I am, I have to find the balance among these three voices to sound that way.

What’s your writing brand?

Thoughts are like Armpits, Everybody Has Them, and Unless You Write Them Down, They Aren’t Worth Anything

I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately and trying to figure out what success looks like in my life. I came to the conclusion that the most (and probably the only) successful things I’ve done in this life are maintain a healthy marriage, procreate three times and keep those children alive and learning, I have earned a Master’s degree, created hundreds of successful daily lesson plans and taught them, made quite a few YouTube videos that I feel capture the feeling of the moment I tried to capture, and (maybe) written some papers that have some good thoughts.

The world (especially meaning the people who sign checks) don’t see the things that I consider to be successes in my life to be successes, or at least they don’t see them worthy of giving me money for them. I am starting to get the feeling that, aside from the YouTube videos and the papers I’ve written, my successes don’t involve the creation of something that can be enjoyed asynchronously outside of my presence, which seems to be a defining characteristic of a successful creation. 

I was blessed with a brain that does a lot of thinking. And every once in a while, like how a virus or cancer can mutate out of sheer volume of reproductions, I think a pretty good thought. But the only people I have that I can share my thoughts with are my family, my coworkers, and my students, none of whom are cutting me any checks for them. So if I want my thoughts to have a wider audience, and if I want other people to benefit from the thoughts I have, or if I want my thoughts to turn into something tangible (i.e. $) and asynchronous to me, I have to write them down, and put them in a public place.

In other words, I have to write, and I have to make that writing public. 

In other other words, if I want to be successful, I must write. I must make writing my life.

So here goes.